This exhibition, devoted to the work of Nicolas Schöffer, a French artist of Hungarian origin (1912–1992), is more of a “prospective” than a “retrospective”: the artist’s visionary approach is emblematic of a state of mind focusing on ongoing research, in step with—and even, ahead of—the scientific culture and technological environment of his day.
The era Nicolas Schöffer embodies is that of the Reconstruction and the Trente Glorieuses, the thirty years following the end of World War Two when society as a whole imagined its future as the fruit of exponential progress and the growth of ever-better shared knowledge. For example as the 1940s drew to a close, Schöffer explored the most innovative field of research—cybernetics—and made it the departure point for thought on the goals and methods of art which was to radically change its appearance and procedures.
During his lifetime Schöffer aroused immediate reactions, gaining him a measure of fame that few artists of his generation enjoyed. Winner of the Sculpture Prize at the 1968 Venice Biennale, he was either celebrated or derided, incarnating an age where the future was still invested by his contemporaries.
Such recognition, which included major media coverage, is in marked contrast with the relative oblivion into which Schöffer has fallen. His last major exhibition in a French museum was held at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1974—a year after the first oil crisis, a time that ushered in an era of crises, doubts and uncertainties that the previous decades’ futurist mythologies could no longer withstand.
However Schöffer’s forward-looking work and thought has found fresh currency at a time when new cybernetic utopias are arising and shaping our material universe afresh (the information society and new digital cultures), along with our imaginations (the global village and the post-human era). Such a context justifies the holding of an event that takes a close-up look at the fortunes of a body of work that is now more inspiring than ever before.
Organized into nine sections, this remarkable exhibition will pay particular attention to Schöffer’s visionary aspects, via a selection of sculptures, paintings, drawings and documents representative of his work, including never-before-seen items taken directly from the artist’s studio and archive collection. His most exploratory projects and experimental transdisciplinary collaborations with architects, musicians, choreographers, scientists and industrialists will be complemented by documents from the era—films, photographs, magazines and ads—each re-anchored in its context of creation, dissemination and reception.